Hookah Lounges Exempt From Bylaw

Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun, September 21, 2007

Vancouver’s hookah-parlour owners are celebrating after winning an exemption Thursday from a proposed new bylaw that will ban smoking on most sidewalks in commercial districts, in bus shelters and even in taxis passing through Vancouver.

In giving the bylaw unanimous approval-in-principle, Vancouver city council members bowed to arguments that hookah lounges provide an important cultural space for the city’s Muslims and granted them a temporary exemption.

The bylaw, which provides for fines of $100 to $2,000, won’t come into effect until the legal department has drafted Thursday’s amendments. No firm date for its implementation has been set.

Hamid Mohammadian, operator of the Persian Teahouse on Davie Street, thanked council for the exemption.

“We are very happy because this is our culture. I have one customer, 75 years old, who said ‘I will have no other place to go if you close,’” he said.

Mohammadian brought two hookah pipes to show council. They included a 600-year-old model with a ceramic mosaic on the outside, fruit-flavoured tobacco, and charcoal to the meeting to show councillors what was at stake.

Emad Yacoub, who runs five restaurants in Vancouver, also attended Thursday’s meeting to ask council to protect hookah lounges.

“I support no smoking on the patios,” he said, saying it will make it easier for him since he won’t have to settle fights between his smoking and non-smoking customers.

But he said hookah lounges are essential for immigrants from hookah-smoking cultures, because it helps them deal with the depression common for newcomers and gives them places like they have at home.

Unlike other immigrants, they can’t go to bars because their religion prohibits them from drinking alcohol.

“I took my cousin there and I only saw a smile on his face when I took him to a hookah lounge because that is what we do back home.”

City council also agreed that the city’s two cigar shops, which have special smoking rooms, can operate until everyone finds out what the province’s new anti-smoking regulations will be.

But Vancouver’s planned new bylaw will prohibit smoking in any taxi travelling through Vancouver, even if the driver and all the passengers don’t have a problem with it and even if the taxi is licensed in another municipality.

It will also prohibit smoking within six metres of any entryway, window or air intake for a public building, which will effectively ban smoking on most sidewalks in commercial areas, since sidewalks are only three metres wide and doors are often less than six metres apart.

And it will prohibit smoking on restaurant patios and at bus shelters.

The one foggy point in the new bylaw was whether it will apply to crack cocaine and crystal-meth smoking.

One disgruntled speaker, Angela Giannoulis, suggested sarcastically that she hoped the new bylaw would mean she wouldn’t have to put up with crack and crystal-meth smokers outside her family’s cigar-distribution business in Strathcona, while it forces her employees to go to dangerous alleys to smoke cigarettes and threatens to shut the cigar rooms for her customers.

But health-protection director Domenic Losito said he didn’t think so, since the bylaw is aimed at cigarette smoke.

Coun. Suzanne Anton noted the bylaw refers to the smoking of “tobacco or other weed or substance.”

Losito said he would have to check with the city’s legal department about whether the bylaw will cover non-tobacco products.

Anton and Coun. Tim Stevenson, who are from the city’s two main opposing parties, came up jointly with a motion to exempt the hookah lounges and cigar rooms temporarily.

The province is coming up with its own new non-smoking regulations, but they aren’t finalized yet and it is unclear whether or not they will cover cigar-store smoking rooms or hookah lounges.

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